Politico

NYC's outdoor dining program will return next year


NEW YORK — New York City’s pandemic-era outdoor dining program will continue next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

With indoor dining banned indefinitely because of the coronavirus risk, thousands of restaurants have been allowed to take over the parking spaces outside their eateries to seat customers — and de Blasio said the al fresco dining push would usher in a longer-term change to the city’s streetscape.

Restaurants and bars, which were shut down except for takeout for months, have continued to struggle since outdoor dining started on June 22: 83 percent were unable to pay their full rent for July, and 37 percent paid no rent at all, according to a survey released Monday by the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Nearly 10,000 restaurants have signed up for the program, which allows them to use parking spots as open air dining rooms, as well as put tables on the sidewalk. In parts of the city, more than 60 streets are closed to cars on weekends to allow a full takeover by restaurants.

The program is currently scheduled to go through Oct. 31 and will return by June 1 of next year, the mayor said.

“We have seen that this experiment worked,” de Blasio said.

“I want the folks who own the restaurants to know that they’re going to have that additional revenue going forward,” he said. “It’s been an extraordinary success.”

The city estimates that 80,000 laid off workers have gotten their jobs back to work at restaurants that rolled out outdoor dining.

Officials may allow outdoor dining to go past October or start earlier next spring, and are mulling allowing restaurants to continue through the winter with the aid of heaters and blankets if they choose to.

“We’re looking at that right now,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to look at whether we can go further this year. That’s still an open question. But I think it’s really important for the restaurateurs and everyone in that industry and everyone in communities to know it’s coming back next year, so they can plan.”

But many restaurants have already closed permanently, and others fear they will not be able to survive while still deep in the hole on rent they’ve been unable to pay during the pandemic.

According to the Hospitality Alliance survey, 61 percent of landlords have refused to defer rent payments, 71 percent won’t waive portions of the rent and 90 percent will not formally renegotiate leases.

Outdoor dining has not brought in enough cash for many businesses to cover rent and expenses, according to the group.

“Restaurants and nightlife venues are essential to the economic and social fabric of our city, but they are struggling to survive and absent immediate and sweeping relief so many will be forced to close permanently,” said Executive Director Andrew Rigie.

The city has driven down the number of coronavirus cases significantly but has pushed off the opening of indoor dining, museums and malls to prevent the spikes in the disease seen in other states.

In the latest data, 1 percent of tests were positive, 67 people entered hospitals for potential Covid-19 symptoms and public hospital ICUs were treating 262 people.

Contact tracers have found that 10 to 20 percent of people newly diagnosed with the disease have gone to gatherings of some kind, said public health adviser Jay Varma.

Over the weekend, owners of a party boat were arrested for throwing an illegal party on board.

“When we see something wrong, we’ve got to go in and stop it immediately,” de Blasio said. “Our greatest concerns remain with indoor activities.”

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